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Content Overview

Unit 5: c. 1750-1900

Political Revolutions

American Revolution

Summary: In the American Revolution (1775-81), the American colonists declared independence from Britain, creating the United States of America (USA)

Causes of American Revolution

British Taxes on Colonists

Britain started levying taxes on the American colonists (descendants of Europeans living in the US) → Colonists started to oppose British rule

Enlightenment Principles

Colonists heard about Enlightenment principles of freedom & equality → Encouraged colonists to fight for independence

On July 4, 1776, the colonists signed the Declaration of Independence, a document echoing the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke's ideals that all men have "natural rights" to "life, liberty, and [the pursuit of happiness]"

Events of American Revolution

American Colonists sought independence & fought the British for independence

France joined the war (on the side with the colonists) in 1777 to help the colonists defeat Britain

Britain surrendered in 1781, causing the colonists to declare an independent United States

Influence of American Revolution

The success of the American Revolution influenced many other oppressed groups to rebel. It influenced the French peasants to rebel against the French Monarchy (French Revolution), and the Latin American creoles to rebel against Spanish Rule (Latin American Revolutions)

French Revolution

Summary: In the French Revolution (1789-1815), the French commoners revolted against the absolutism of the French monarchy, leading to a huge period of chaos, followed by the dictatorship of Napoleon (1804-15)

Causes of the French Revolution

Absolute Authority of French King

The French commoners had very little power in French politics. They made up 95% of French population but only have 1/3 influence in Parliament

Enlightenment Principles

Enlightenment ideals of freedom and the idea that the gov shouldn't be tyrannical encouraged the French commoners to rebel against their monarchy

Olympe de Gouges: She was a French revolutionary leader who believed that women should also receive basic civil rights (and not just men)

Events of the French Revolution

In 1789, the French commoners revolted against the monarchy & established their own assembly called the National Assembly. They then abolished the French monarchy & created a republic called the National Convention. Because that was too radical, they created the Directory, but one military general (Napoleon) in the Directory launched a coup & seized power in 1799. 

National Assembly

National Convention

Created a liberal constitution: Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen

Used terror to execute all dissidents in the guillotine (Reign of Terror, 1793-94)


Napoleonic Rule

Was a military government. Napoleon Bonaparte was a military general here

Napoleon became emperor in 1804 & invaded rest of Europe until exiled in 1815. His Napoleonic Codes gave all men civil rights

Aftermath of French Revolution

After Napoleon was defeated in 1815, European nations met at Congress of Vienna (1815) to discuss post-Napoleon order. They promoted conservatism (the idea of not making any changes), so they restored all national boundaries, erasing the entire progress of the French Revolution

Haitian Revolution

Summary: In the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), the slaves of the French colony of Saint-Domingue declared independence, creating the independent nation of Haiti

Causes of the Haitian Revolution

Pre-existing Conflict in Haiti

Haiti had 3 social classes: Whites, free blacks, and slaves. The whites & free blacks fought each other as they both wanted basic civil rights, but the whites didn't want free blacks to get civil rights

Enlightenment Principles

Haitian slaves were influenced by spread of Enlightenment ideals from American Revolution (and also French Revolution)

Events of Haitian Revolution

Boukman, a Vodou priest, led 100k slaves to revolt against France, but he died (1791)

Britain & Spain came and wanted to take over the colony, so Haiti abolished slavery (1793) to allow slaves to join the army to fight the British & Spanish

One slave, Toussaint L'Ouverture, led an army for independence. He died, so his assistant, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, declared independence in 1804

It was easy for the slaves to declare independence (1804) since France was distracted by the French Revolution

Impact of Haitian Revolution

The Haitian Revolution was the world's first successful slave revolt, encouraging other slaves to revolt as well

Latin American Revolutions

Summary: In the Latin American Revolutions (1808-26), almost all Spanish & Portuguese colonies in the Americas declared independence

Causes of the Latin American Revolutions

Weakened Power of Spain & Portugal

In 1807-08, Napoleon invaded Spain & Portugal, causing their monarchies to weaken. This made it easier for Latin Americans to declare independence

Enlightenment Principles

The success of the American Revolution influenced Venezuelan revolutionary Simon Bolivar, who wanted to create a confederation of nations just like the US

Events of the Latin American Revolutions

Venezuelan Revolution (1810-23)

Simon Bolivar led an army to declare independence for Venezuela. He created Gran Colombia in 1819 (a nation comprising of Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador) which split into individual countries in 1831

Brazilian Independence (1822)

Napoleon invaded Portugal (1807) → Portuguese King John VI fled to Brazil. Napoleon was defeated in 1815 → John VI returned to Portugal, leaving his son (Pedro) in charge of Brazil. In 1822, Pedro declared independence of Brazil

Mexican Independence (1810-21)

Miguel Hidalgo started fighting for Mexican independence in 1810, but he was killed by Mexican pro-Spain conservatives in 1811. In 1821, Agustin de Iturbide declared independence from Spain

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